Faked orgasms, lefty lovers, Aids . . .: Sex is a universal language for the six million readers of 'Cosmopolitan' magazine's 29 international editions

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The Independent Online
'I consider you my children,' enthuses Helen Gurley Brown, editor-in-chief of US Cosmopolitan magazine. 'I'm so deliciously proud of you all.'

Her 'children' are the editors of Cosmopolitan's 29 international editions, gathered in London for a family reunion to share problems, feature ideas and promotional tips, writes Martin Wroe. Worldwide, the magazine sells six million copies a month, with up to 40 per cent of material in many international editions taken free from the American or British Cosmopolitan.

Marcelle d'Argy Smith, the British editor, expands the family theme: 'Every time I think of the Cosmo family my heart soars.' Not to mention her sales figures, up 20 per cent, or 100,000 copies, since she took over three years ago. Juliette Boisriveaud, of the French edition, is also grateful to Helen, her praise taking on religious tones: 'Thank you, Helen, for the bible, the bible is perfect.'

Helen Gurley Brown created every emancipated young woman's bible for the Hearst Corporation in 1965. Now in her seventies, some 45 years older than her average reader, Ms Gurley Brown remains crystal clear about the Cosmo Girl reader profile. In short: she's under 25, has a job but is networking for a move, expects to be married but is not panicking, wants a baby but is prepared to wait until her late thirties, thinks sex is important but not on the first date - and will bring the condoms - is not sure what a bisexual is but is sure she has never slept with one, and believes that 'you get out of life only what you put in there'.

However, others are not convinced this is the only Cosmo Girl. In Germany, for example, the east Germans cannot afford Cosmopolitan and the west German editors don't know anything about ex-Commie Cosmo girls anyway. What they do know is that surveys about what men know about the female body work wonders for sales. In Greece, Cosmo Girl is 'really flipping out' according to Rica Zoula-Vayianni, because of the sexual revolution and Aids.

Unlike the rest of the Cosmopolitan editorial sisterhood, the Dutch editor has neither big ear-rings nor highlighted hair, perhaps because he is a man ('I was born this way,' he confides apologetically from the platform). In his first week on the job he had to view 50 'hunks' in boxer shorts for the Cosmo calendar.

Sex, the magazine's preoccupation in the Sixties, remains its dominant concern today - worldwide. This can create problems. The Latin American editor, Sara Maria Castany, has difficulty getting oral sex past the censors. The solution is to disguise it as a medical article. Sarah Glattstein Franco, from Spain, has a similar dilemma: 'Can we put oral sex on the cover or will the Spanish woman faint?' It seems not, it is selling 190,000 copies a month. The most controversial article in the South African edition this year was on 'the short-comings of lefty lovers'.

In Australia, rival magazines give Cosmopolitan a run for its money. While one competitor tells you how to have an orgasm, Cosmo describes how to fake it, and another rival explains how to knit one.

But despite the British cover-lines this month ('Why does hugging have to lead to sex?', 'Are you going through a lesbian phase?' and 'Alice Walker on female circumcision'), Helen Gurley Brown's American writers are still streets ahead on sex according to Marcelle d'Argy Smith.

'Their sex pieces are wonderful. They've got psychologists who can research and write and we just haven't'

(Photograph omitted)